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The book begins right away introducing us to the would be protagonist, Satan, up against an indominable force, God. We are made to sympathise with Satan's plight and almost admire him or hope for his success. There is a certain excitement and allure to Satan and even to Hell. But, quickly our hero begans to degenerate right before our eyes in book III with the introduction of God and Christ. The focus on Satan seems to be all but abandoned with the introduction of man, and now Satan only plays a sinister role in a new story centered around our greatest ancestor, Adam. We are painfully reminded of our initial affiliation with Satan and his doomed aspirations when Rapheal recounts the war in heaven in book VI. It seems the first epic revolving around Satan was over before it was started, and now our would be underdog threatens us by threatening our new protagonist in Adam.
The brief warnings of Raphael are not enough to preserve paradise and save Adam & Eve from the vengence of the Devil. It seems our hero is destined to ruin once again, but this time there is hope. Man turns out to be more repentant than Satan, and God turns out to be a little more leniant to man. Adam and Eve are still banished from Paradise but the oppurtunity for inner paradise is still offered before them by the angel Michael.
Which leads me to my comment earlier about Paradise Lost seeming like two epics (the plight of Satan and then that of man). But, really Paradise Lost is like three epics, because there is a third story, that of the reader. Milton paints the characters with such a humanity that they all become real people and not just the entities of some Sunday school lesson. Because of this, we find ourselves initially enamoured with Satan and his "heroic" aspirations, but quickly we get slapped on the hand by our hero's destruction. Then we are taken by the arguments of Eve & Adam and are made to question some of God's actions when it comes to informing them and protecting them, so we then go through the fall with them.
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And it seems the whole of Paradise Lost becomes a journey for the reader as well as the characters, and we fall twice in the reading of it with them. So, the third story is us, and hopefully at this point we see the folly of aspiring too far and understand why Satan was wrong even though his arguments seemed so attractive. And maybe as we reach the end we are the wiser for our journey, like Adam is, or we are not like Satan is not, because that is really what Paradise Lost is about, the freedom to chose. The freedom of Satan to make his choice to rebel and to try and thwart God's will, the freedom of Eve to listen to the serpent and make a choice, the freedom of Adam to follow Eve in destruction, the freedom of the reader to sympathise or not with their plights or to disagree or agree with the results, but hopefully by the end of the book we see that while we are free to chose there is one constant in God. And, we are not in the right, even if we feel justified, because part of being the subjects of God is obedience to God. Amen